The Escape Roomer’s 2020 Round-Up

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2020 has been… Quite the year! For me at least, it’s gone “January – February – Quarantine – December”. Whilst this means I did not get ANYWHERE near my escape room target of 50 rooms this year (thanks coronavirus), an almost brand new sub-category has emerged in the escape room industry: Play at Home.

From a relatively small part of escape rooms, I can confidently say that the play at home genre does (and will continue to) form an integral part of any escape room business, and I’m extremely excited to see where 2021 takes this trend.

Without further ado, here are my measly stats for 2020!

Total Escape Rooms12
Total Play at Home95
Fastest (Escape Room) Escape30 minutes
Escape the Vault
Slowest (Escape Room) Escape52 minutes
Sherlock: The Time is Now

And if you’re interested… In 2020 I have also designed 7 escape games, 1 outdoor adventure, and started work on a small indie videogame!

Favourite Escape Room

Impossible to pick! Impossible firstly because I find the good in everything and strive to leave positive reviews where possible. Impossible secondly as my ‘big plans’ got decimated down to just a few real life escape rooms behind a mask and eight bottles of hand sanitiser. Nonetheless, there are two stand out experiences to mention:

Sherlock: The Time is Now

A high tech, immense and multi-roomed experience from the talented people behind Time Run. As a Sherlock fan, this ticked all the boxes.

Ready Escape Games: Escape the Vault

A trip all the way to Brighton to meet the creators and experience this brilliant 40 minute escape room. After a rocky start, we smashed it! But the real stand out was the location, the environment, and the team!

Last Escape Room Before Lockdown

All, that sweet, sweet time before the apocalypse arrived! Around a week before lockdown hit (whether that was the formal mandate by the government, or the “we’re all going to work from home I bet it’ll only last a week or so” period), I was lucky to attend the launch of A Dalek Awakens at Escape Hunt Reading.

First Escape Room After Lockdown

For a brief period in August – October, things returned to *almost* normal. People were encouraged to Eat Out to Help Out and escape rooms across the UK reopened allowing groups of up to 6 in a ‘social bubble’. Well, my regular team immediately ‘bubbled up’ and off we headed to The School of Witchcraft & Wizardry at Enigma Quests. This was an escape room that had been on our list for literally years since it first came out. It did not disappoint!

Top 10 Play At Home Games:

So now, onto the hot topic of the year. Playing escape rooms from home! But I couldn’t just pick one favourite. There are so many games and so many types – how on earth can one compare a remote avatar with an audio adventure, or a digital game with a printed one? Instead, here’s a top 10:

  1. Real Escape Game Japan: The Strange Village [Digital]
  2. Agent Venture: The Heist [Remote/Digital]
  3. Next Level Escapes: A Temporal Tangle [Digital]
  4. The Profoctor Predicament [Printed]
  5. The Curious Elevator or Mr. Hincks [Physical]
  6. Clue Quest: Humanity 2.0 [Printed]
  7. Truth Seekers Remote Adventure [Remote]
  8. Clue Cracker: Escape from Extinction Island [Digital]
  9. Project Avatar: Stalker [Remote – Review Not Yet Published!]
  10. STL Fantasy Maps: Escape the Empire [Printed]

Enter: Video Games

In late 2020 I also added the category “Video Games” to this blog. *Cheers in gamer* Whilst I haven’t published nearly enough reviews to talk about my favourites, the one stand out for me that defined this whole year was the Rusty Lake series. On every lunch break and well into the evenings, you bet I had a Rusty Lake loaded up on my mobile phone. It got me through a lot! Haha! You can read my review for Paradox here.

Statistics Time!

…And finally, a couple of blog stats, in case you’re interested!

This website launched in May 2020 and went from an average of 300 visitors a month, to an exciting 4,000 – 5,000 visitors per month in November and December. This probably has a lot to do with the fact I started posting more:

Wow! Thanks for sticking around this far 😀
Our most popular posts per month were:

And finally, since WordPress provides such a handy data widget, here are some more general site stats which I found pretty fun to share!

Total Posts: 96
Total Words Written: 50,670
Total Comments: 65

Thank You!

Overall, what a year. I for one am glad it’s over (and just quietly hoping it was a “bad year” and not the start of a “bad decade” haha). But also looking forward to the exciting new games and experiences 2021 will bring.

But, I don’t mean to be hasty! 2020 wasn’t all bad! For one, I’ve made so many new friends in the escape room world (you know who you are!) and played a lot of brilliant and surprising games this year I’d never otherwise had tried. So here’s to many more digital games, remote avatar and printable kits, and here’s also to hoping that the world returns to normalcy just a little bit more and escape rooms can reopen.

Thanks for sticking around with me and this blog for this long! Cheers to 2021!

UNLOCKED Escape Room: Return of the Magician

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After a long hiatus, The Magician has returned to the stage. Join us and book your tickets to find out just exactly why he was named Magician of the Year 3 times in a row! This comeback performance will be exclusively shown only at UNLOCKED Productions Theater. His magic and illusions will free your mind…

Rating: Intriguing!
Completion Time: 45 minutes
Date Played: 26th December 2020
Party Size: 5
Recommended For: Everyone

Return of the Magician is the first live online escape room from Californian escape room company UNLOCKED: Escape Room and came highly recommended by my friend Escape Mattster. To give it a whirl, I teamed up with Gord & Liz of Review the Room, Armchair Escapist, and Brit of an Escape Habit in an all-UK escape room team extraordinaire!

Escape rooms on Boxing Day might just be the best day of the year to play escape rooms. Now hear me out – you’re well fed and relaxed, but there’s no more Christmas stress. This might be why this was the 4th (and final) escape room of the day. But they do say to save the best for last, right?

Return of the Magician lived up to the recommendation and did not disappoint! In essential terms, it’s a classic remote avatar escape room with the added bonus of an inventory system, allowing all players to take a closer look at objects and details in their own time.

You, a team of intrepid magic-enthusiasts are invited along to an incredible magician show but, when disaster strikes at the opening event, not all is as it seems. Aiding you is the Games Master, an active character in the live escape room who plays your eyes and ears on the ground. Your job is to find the missing magician in just 60 minutes. The show must go on!

Return of the Magician is an almost identical version of the real life escape room with the same name at UNLOCKED: Escape Rooms. Players who have previously taken on their live room may not be able to play this again, but with some changes for the digital world, the game runs seamlessly as a remote avatar experience. There’s special effects, sound bytes, and of course… MAGIC!

In terms of puzzles, there’s a little bit of everything in here. You can expect a logical, linear flow with plenty of signposting! In most cases, puzzles solutions give a 3, or 4 digit code or reveal the location of a key to proceed. But there are plenty more that surprise and delight with really outside of the box thinking.

Our troupe of enthusiasts completed the game in a very respectable 45 minutes! The approximate completion time is around 59 minutes for the average team – meaning it’s challenging and exciting, but not so impossible you won’t finish in time. Plus, verbal clues from your helpful Games Masters (shout out to John and Tony who ran our game!) are on hand if you need one at any time.

Overall, we had fun! As I say, a lovely way to spend a Boxing Day evening with friends and good company. Our host was enigmatic, the room seamless, and puzzles creative. It’s a good game for beginners and veterans alike, and I’d be happy to recommend this to anybody looking for something a bit different to do during lockdown!

The Return of the Magician can be booked for $60 USD + per team on Unlocked: Escape Room’s website. Photos for this review provided by the company.

Curio Casebooks: Anadarko | Review

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The Anadarko box concerns a cold case from 1989 Oklahoma. The original detectives were stumped by a string of murders, and the case file has been sent to you to review. Retrace the original detective’s steps and delve into the original case files to find where the trail went cold and solve the murders for yourself.

Rating: Thrilling!
Completion Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Date Played: 19th December 2020
Party Size: 1
Recommended For: Sleuths and True Crime Fans

Content Warning: Murder, Violence

Anadarko is the first case box by sleuth duo behind Curio Casebooks – Jo and Martin and it’s got EVERYTHING you want from a murder mystery experience. For the sheer amount of evidence and goodies you get in a box, to how exciting (and realistic) the actual case was – I’m hooked and I cannot wait for Case 2 to come out!

Okay so I’m a murder mystery super-fan. Since when and why? I’m not sure. Maybe from studying law at university, maybe from a 6 month detective internship with the London MET? I mention this because I’m convinced I can spot an exciting and realistic case file a mile off. Anadarko has it all. From the moment I opened the box it felt genuine! Who were these unusual people from the 1980s in this small town? I must know!

The story goes, over the course of a year back in the 1980s, three women mysteriously turned up dead in the small town of Anadarko. You join the cold case in the present day, having nothing but the old case files to chew over. But you’ll quickly find yourself, as I did, pulled into the world of Andarko, pouring over the transcripts, underlining things, cross-referencing with photographs and detective notes.

Unfortunately I do not have a pin board, but at about the 50% mark I realised I needed to spread out and get a better overview. Keeping track of three murders requires a step back (or two, or three). But where there’s a will (and some cellotape) there’s a way – even if it did cause my regular Player 2 to double back on himself in confusion when he entered the room, walls plastered in photos and transcripts.

All in all, solving the Anadarko case takes around 1 – 2 hours. The idea is quite simple, the “game” follows a non-linear pattern of being presented with all the evidence and part of the fun is sorting it out to figure out the who, what and when. Once that’s all figured out, you’ve got to review the suspects and work your way backwards. Why did the killer do what they did? Is there a hidden clue somewhere in a transcript? (Yes! Yes there’s plenty!)

There’s also a fun little puzzle cipher that fits into the game too – as a regular escape room enthusiast I might have liked to see more, but the one that was in there felt perfectly in place. A curious note mailed in to the newspaper editor in an unfamiliar, Zodiac-esque language? Sign me up.

Talking of fun things in the box – fans of Curio Casebooks can also look forward to a number of extra goodies. These were such an added surprises and really elevated the whole experience for me. For starters, an FBI hat and laminated ID card. A nice touch alongside a branded notebook, keyring, bookmark and – at least in my kit – a couple of festive snacks to keep me going too!

Overall, I’m very impressed with Curio Casebooks and can’t wait to see what they come up with for their next case!

Curio Casebooks: Anadarko can be purchased for £25 via the company’s Etsy page.

House of Tales: Hong Kong The Night Before

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Hong Kong, one night before. The war between the two most powerful triads, the “Red Lotus” and the “Blue Phoenix” seems to have reached its peak. When De is given a mission that seems simple, but in times like these turns out to be a life-threatening ordeal. But does he have what it takes to Take on the opposing triad? Help him land the coup of his life, but most importantly to survive this night.

Rating: Different!
Completion Time: 60 minutes
Date Played: 24th December 2020
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: Families

Content Warning: Violence, Some Swearing

Definitely one of my more unusual choices to play on Christmas Eve, but I figured the theme of the game would resonate with my regular Player 2. Unfortunately, Player 2 dropped out halfway through the game so I’m writing about the game as one I experienced as a 1.5 player team (haha)!

Hong Kong: The Night Before is a unique game in an historical setting I’ve not experienced in any other escape room (or online game for that matter) – Kowloon Walled City in early 1990s Hong Kong, rife with rival mafia groups and the seedy criminal underworld. This is the third original game from German escape room company House of Tales – and their only one at the time of writing available in English.

It’s an interesting mix of video content, point-and-click and audio narration. You, the players, take on the role of a footman of the Red Lotus mafia organisation, sent on a not-so-simple mission to pick up some money from the Red Lotus owned laundromat. You watch a few videos, there’s frequently a fade to black with audio narration on top, and then before each puzzle you’re presented with an environment you can interact with. Unlike other point-and-clicks there are just one or two interactable objects per ‘level’. These then enlarge in a pop-up and you’re presented with a text box to fill out before you may proceed.

It’s a very linear game with only one path to take and a puzzle blocking each stage. Largely, the puzzles are good fun! In particular, I enjoyed one that involved a series of safety deposit boxes. I’m a sucker for a good 4 digit code puzzle and that one was impressive!

On the other hand, there were a few that felt a little out of place. For example you meet a mysterious character that will not tell you what you need to know until you solve three riddles. Arguably, these riddles took us the longest to complete and slowed our progress down immensely. But I know that there are a lot of people reading this who LOVE riddle puzzles and will likely find them a breath of fresh air. So there is indeed a mix in there to suit different players. It depends what you want from a game.

Visually, I really enjoyed the game! It’s the stand out feature and they really evoke a dystopian 90s criminal underworld with bright neon colours, dingy alleyways and shadowy figures in the distance. Though the pacing of the game was slow, each time we made it to a new location it felt fresh and there were exciting new things to click (or button mash, if you’re me!) and explore.

The game ended on an exciting cliff hanger, which was another stand out moment. A moment of “oh my gosh! I didn’t expect that” in an otherwise slow paced, chill-out game. I’ll be excited to see what House of Tales does with a potential sequel for this game and for sure will check it out when it’s launched.

Hong Kong: The Night Before can be purchased for 24.99 EUR on House of Tales’ website in English and German.

Moroi Springs: Winterlore

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Legend has it, that after God created the World, he scattered the crumbs left from his bag of miracles in the place that is now Moroi Springs. The land began to be inhabited by strange creatures to balance out the good and the bad in the World.

Time Played: 30 minutes
Console: Computer
Recommended For: For a Quick, Chill-Out Game

Winterlore, like The Cabin, is another quick escape room game I spotted on itch.io. Yep, it’s quickly becoming my go-to platform for new and upcoming puzzle videogames and it hasn’t let me down yet!

This absolute gem of a game comes from the creative folks behind videogame universe “Moroi Springs”. Moroi Springs is a universe packed with Romanian folkloric history and retold through the main character’s quest of ‘self discovery’ through beautiful illustrations, puzzles, and environments.

You play the young Ozana, a girl whose grandmother has passed away, as you navigate a sparsely populated room. In all essence, it is a classic point and click game. You click on objects to get a closer look and to interact with them. You must find keys, equipment, solve puzzles by sliding and rotating items, combine things logically – ultimately all in the quest to find your grandmother’s belongings and pack them away safely in a beautiful box.

The story grows more vivid, the music more vibrant, and the environment exciting as the game progresses. Although it is not a long game, it tugs on all the heartstrings and makes you feel as if it is your own relative who has passed from this life.

The puzzles too grow in complexity, but each have a very fun mechanic. Yes, there are a couple of different types of locks, but in order to succeed you also need to think outside the box. Reassemble, fix things, sew things, paint things, and a whole medley of traditional wooden puzzles in there too.

I did have one small technical error with the game and had to restart to get past a certain point – but this game gets a free pass! As an indie game whose emphasis is on the narrative and storytelling, one small glitch in a puzzle is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Overall, a really charming little game! The best part is, this is the first game in many more to come in the Moroi Springs universe. I can’t wait to see where they go with it!

Winterlore can be played for $1 USD (currently on sale) on Moroi Springs’ Itch.io page or on mobile devices via their website.

Serial Cleaner

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Slip on your flares, grab your shades and hop in your station wagon, it’s time to work… as a mob professional cleaner. A good cleaner never gets caught, so you have to make sure you get in, clean up and get out without leaving a trace of evidence in this stylish award winning 2D action-stealth game.

Time Played: 7 hours
Console: Nintendo Switch
Recommended For: Adults, Fans of Stealth Games

Content Warning: Death / Murder / Violence / Blood

Guilty pleasure admission, I LOVE this game. It’s got gorgeous artwork, slick game mechanics, increasingly complex puzzles to solve, and a fun plot packed with twists!

A mysterious phone call to your house and off you hop in your 70s card to a horrific crime scene. Enter, you. You play the role of “The Cleaner” and for once, rather than play a gun-toting maniac (like 99% of other games out there), you take on the joyous role of tidying up after said maniacs. Picture Grand Theft Auto but once you’ve driven away leaving bodies in the wake, the cleaner comes in with his mop and vacuum to save the day.

The inner Marie Kondo in me makes this an absolute joy to play. You must quietly slip into a building undetected, clean up as fast and quietly as you can, and disappear into the night. Never mind the hilarity that comes once a police officer’s back is turned you jump out from behind a plant pot and scrub the crime scene until it’s sparkling – only to have them turn back around, say “huh?” and continue on with their walking pattern.

So apparently I love cleaning? Tell that to the pile of dishes in my sink and laundry I forgot to put out this morning. But a game like Serial Cleaner is so much more than a cleaning simulation. It’s a stealth game at it’s heart and, in the most classic sense of the word, an escape room game. Yes, you literally have to escape into and out of rooms, armed with switches, hidden passages, oh and cleaning equipment?

Each ‘Contract’ comes by phone. You never know who you’re talking to and each murder scene gets grizzlier and more complex with each contract. But you’ve got bills to pay and therefore blood to clean.

My number one favourite thing about this game however is the artwork. It is…GORGEOUS. With it’s film-inspired costumes, clunky cars, brilliant shadows and lighting and funky soundtrack to boot. Makes you want to unbutton your shirt a few and don some aviator glasses.

Yes, the game is frustrating. Very much so! My regular escape room Player 2 didn’t get much further than Contract 3 before putting the game down. I, after a 4 day binge, eventually completed the game with a resounding breath of relief. You can spend 15 minutes painstakingly working your way around a level, picking up bodies, hiding and timing, flicking switches… Only to have a police office immediately shoot you dead because they turned quicker than you were expecting. Then it’s back to the start of the level. Every time.

But, when you DO complete a level, the feeling is euphoric. Why yes, I am the greatest cleaner of all time! Take that, cops!

Fans of the game will be pleasantly pleased to hear a sequel is in the works! The Cleaner (and a whole new team) are brought up to date (sorta) to a new setting – the 90s! The map is now 3D, the cops harder, the puzzles more complex, and the crime scenes grimmer. In short, I cannot wait.

Serial Cleaner can be played on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC & Mac. Check out and support the developers, Draw Distance on their website here.

Escape Live: Moriarty the Last Stand

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The infamous Professor James Moriarty has finally been detained by none other than Detective Sherlock Holmes. Whilst Moriarty was being detained, the evidence linking him to his crimes – his revolver – disappeared. Sherlock believes it to be hidden in Moriarty’s office.

Rating: Fun
Completion Time: 25:45
Date Played: 13th December 2020
Party Size: 6
Recommended For: Beginners

Moriarty: The Last Stand by Escape Live was a classic Zoom escape room. An avatar, a room, and a series of puzzles to solve with a clear ‘end goal’ in sight. In the case of this game – you’re looking for evidence to link the dastardly Moriarty to a series of crimes: A revolver!

The room is a re-imagining of Escape Live’s real life escape room Dr. Wilson’s office. Whilst it’s set in the same location, the puzzles differ quite a lot – so definitely replayable if you’ve already given the real life escape room a go.

First, you enter the Zoom room and are greeted by an enthusiastic and enigmatic escape room host. In our game, we had the lovely games master Chloe (shout out to her!). First, the scene is set, then you get a sweep of the room with the various locks identified, then (to quote Sherlock Holmes) the game is afoot!

For me, the Games Master was easily the best thing about this game. Ours had buckets of enthusiasm and acted swiftly and efficiently on our every request as we rummaged through drawers and looked underneath things.

In terms of difficulty my team of 6 absolutely smashed it in 25 minutes – so I want to put this around the ‘beginner’ level of difficulty. For sure, it’s very accessible (and probably one of the best games to introduce your non-escape room friends to), but a veteran will probably whiz through it!

The game also relies strongly on locks. You’ve got your 3 digit, 4 digit, 5 digit, colour locks, directional locks, and word locks. Locks, locks, locks. Good job I actually (guilty secret) love a good lock or two in an escape room. So largely most of the puzzles will give you a numerical answer, or a word. Making it slightly easy, and again very accessible.

Overall, good fun for a Sunday afternoon.

Moriarty: The Last Stand can be booked for £10 – £25 per player on Escape Live’s website.

Fast Familiar: National Elf Service | Review

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A Christmas like no other. Festive spirit is at an all time low. The toy factory has ground to a halt, the sleigh’s gathering dust in the garage, and everyone’s looking glum. Can you help Holly and the other elves save the day?

Rating: Light-Hearted!
Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: 16th December 2020
Party Size: 2
Recommended For: Families

National Elf Service is a self-described cross between a puzzle game, an online escape room and an interactive audio book. In short, it’s got something for everyone whether you’re new to the genre or if this is your 100th play at home game. In particular, National Elf Service really nails it as a light hearted tale and makes it an absolute stand out game in the whole play at home genre!

The story goes: Holly, an Elf working in the North Pole administrative centre, sends out an S.O.S. to everyone on the Nice List. That’s where you come in! You’re invited to join the National Elf Service to do all you can to prevent a Christmas catastrophe! But not without the help of three National Elf Service Elves who act as your eyes and ears on the ground: Merry, Berry and Sherry. Oh! And Sylvester, the teddy bear.

The problem? Christmas spirit around the world is at an all time low. Yeah, 2020. I feel that a lot.

Through a series of challenges, you work to bring Christmas spirit right back up in time for Christmas Eve. What’s the best way to spread Christmas cheer? It’s to sing loud for all to hear. YES! There’s a challenge where you have to sing. You heard that correctly. A first for any digital play at home escape game, get your singing voices ready for this holly jolly festive romp.

In terms of the ‘how to play’, National Elf Service is unique here too! I’d place a lot of emphasis on the “audio adventure” side of the description as yes, there’s a lot of audio. With a cast of around ~6, it feels like a lot more like an audio drama with the occasional puzzle rather than a puzzle game with audio narration. But in this format, it really works. It’s the kind of game you’d want to cosy up with your family on the sofa and a large mug of hot chocolate. Co-incidentally, this is exactly how Player 2 and I experienced this game. The time ‘between puzzles’ to sit back, relax, and listen was perfect. After all, the narrative skill and story in this game is easily as rich as the hot chocolate I made. The countless hilarious Christmas film references? Well that’s just the cream on top!

You’re presented with a screen with a chat function on the left, audio narration at the bottom, and a main window where the ‘scene’ plays out through brilliant illustration. At the end of each scene, the puzzle of the scene is presented. Those range from quick and easy puzzles that even young members of a family would enjoy, to more puzzling ones that require a bit of thinking outside the box – and pencil and paper!

As a final note, I particularly want to shout out the company for it’s representation. The cast is diverse and normalises characters with physical and mental disabilities as the stars of the show. I don’t want to say “I love that” because it sounds disingenuous, but it’s really really important and makes the game a lot more relatable. Escape rooms, take note!

Overall, if I had to summarise the game – it would be festive, family fun. Really, this is the perfect game for playing round the table with kids, grandparents, and everyone in-between. I’ve no doubt this’ll be a huge hit on Christmas Day and well, if you’re reading this and wondering if you should bring an escape game to Christmas dinner next week – look no further!

National Elf Service can be purchased for £20 per team on the National Elf Service website.

Ratings

The Cabin

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The family cabin is the traditional location for all Christmas dinners. Arriving after a long drive from the city through a snow storm, you find your family is missing. You must search the cabin and unravel this mystery.

Time Played: 6 minutes
Console: Computer
Recommended For: A quick puzzle!

I spotted The Cabin trending on itch.io this morning and, with a description like this, I couldn’t resist downloading it and giving it a go! A mysterious cabin, Christmas trees and a missing family? Sign me up!

The Cabin is actually the result of a 48 hour game jam by 3rd year Game Design student @HNewtonGD, submitted to the Yogscast Game Jam 2020 under the title of “Surprise!”.

Surprising? Yes it is! The ‘puzzle’ isn’t much – in fact, the game play revolves around finding 4 keys hidden around a sinister looking cabin, avoiding the jump scares and rummaging in around drawers. Once found, you finally unlock that tantalising door to reveal a twist ending.

As a free to play game, it’s good fun! But don’t expect anything hugely in depth, or difficult. It’s a fun way to while away a couple of minutes. Just be sure to avoid that snowman!

The Cabin can be downloaded for free on itch.io.

Rusty Lake: Cube Escape: Paradox

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When the infamous detective Dale Vandermeer wakes up in an ominous room without any recollection of his past, he soon finds himself part of a bizarre game orchestrated by an old foe. Dale must solve increasingly challenging puzzles to escape the room and recover his memories.

Time Played: 4-5 hours
Console: Mobile
Recommended For: Fans of the mysterious and artistic!

Content Warning: Blood, Violence, Murder
This review is for both the free Chapter 1 and the paid Chapter 2.

I was introduced to Cube Escape *right* at the start of lockdown and, looking back, I’ve almost completed every one of their games now. From the spooky atmosphere, to the haunting music and the film tie-ins – I can’t get enough. But I thought, for this review (and my first in the videogame series) I’d return to the game I played first.

Rusty Lake games are generally playable on Steam, or on mobile devices. I opt for mobile device. What can I say? I like my puzzles on the go. Confusingly, there are “Rusty Lake” games, and “Cube Escape” Games. The former are longer and more likely to be found on Steam. The latter, shorter, and more likely to be a mobile or browser game. Simple? Err, sort of. Paradox sits in the middle and, due to it’s length, seemed appropriate to write about here!

The story goes, you play Detective Dale Vandemeer of Rusty Lake. You awake, suddenly and find yourself trapped between four walls. Yep, that’s literally it. The whole game (more or less) takes place within those four walls, and everything you need is in there.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t go too deeply into the plot in this review because, well, as with all Rusty Lake experiences… I’m not entirely sure what happened! You take a trip into the mind, delving deep into the future, the past and retell the central character’s tragic life through his memories. It’s creepy, eerie and… Brilliant!

There’s a certain rhythm to these games, and certain styles of puzzles you can come to expect. For one, there are locks, drawers, windows to open and keyholes to look through. It’s a point and click game at the very core of it’s being, but you can interactive with objects in surprising ways too. I must have spent a long time looking at one or two puzzles before I realised, “Oh! I can pick this up and drag it around”.

But the puzzles aren’t confined to ones you’d find in an escape room. No, Paradox destroys all pre-conceptions. For one, you can time travel. In a manner of speaking, anyway. In exploring the mind of the central character, you can lobotomise and swap his brain (yeah you read that right) from past, present and future mind to effortlessly time travel between cognitive realities. Pick up an item in one ‘time’, use it in another, and so on.

The best part about Cube Escape: Paradox? The atmosphere, or ‘vibe’ if you were. For such a simple and straightforward game, it’ll send absolute chills up your spine. Everything about the game is unnerving. Why did I find a headless deer, who is the magician, why not the red vial, why not the blue?

I wouldn’t recommend this for kids. I mean, even if the kid in question doesn’t mind a bit of blood (the other week my little brother showed me the best way to kill a large amount of Creepers in Minecraft… So kids these days, I dunno!), there’s something so unsettling, macabre and nightmare-inducing about Rusty Lake. In the same way something like the podcast Welcome to Nightvale is. Rusty Lake is an alternate universe where everything is just a little bit wrong.

To round off this review, if you can’t get enough of Paradox, there’s a tie-in 20 minute film. The film spoils the ‘story’, but none of the puzzles – so you’re welcome to watch this before, after, or even during your gameplay.

If you want to enjoy this game, you could simply play the free Chapter 1 and still walk away with an awesome experience. You could also watch the film, and leave it at that. I played both Chapter 1 and 2 (because I’m borderline addicted to this series), and I’d recommend this for the best time. For such a small price point, it’s completely worth it to purchase the full game.

Cube Escape: Paradox can be downloaded for free on Steam, Apple or Google Play. Chapter 2 is ~£2 to play.